People often talk about wanting to improve their personal brand. For quick understanding – your personal brand is how other experience you when they interact with you. David McNally and Karl Speak, authors of ‘Be Your Own Brand’ explain it further, “Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.”
It is the unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that we want the world to see. It is the telling of our story. It reflects in our conduct, behaviour, spoken and unspoken words, and attitudes. And when it’s done well, it can enhance our profile in ways that go far beyond just our professional expertise.
I am sure you must be have seen some successful examples of Personal Branding within your peer group. You might have even seriously considered starting with a branding exercise yourself; or you might already be putting a thoughtfully constructed branding strategy into action as I write this. Regardless of which stage of personal branding journey you are currently passing through, networking is a crucial aspect that deserves some deep thought and strategizing.
Naturally, you must already be networking and meeting people as part of your operational activities, but is that useful for your personal brand? Most people tend to think that an organizational meet and greet will automatically feed into their personal brand!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. As you are representing your organization at networking events, you naturally end up talking more about your work or your company’s reputation. This does not equate to networking for your own personal brand.
So how should you use networking to build your brand?
The more connections we make—and the more value we can provide in our interactions—the more likely it is that our personal brand will be recognized. The best networking opportunities for our personal brand are cultivated over time and consist of a combination of integrity and quality that we can offer to people. Michael Goldberg puts it succinctly, “Networking is simply a proactive approach to meeting people to learn with the hope of helping them.”
Even for an experienced hand-shaker like you, there is always a way to add to your business bonding skills. Here are some ways to up your game:
Personal vs. Professional
You are the sum of many different things – your work is just one of them. You have to bring the elements of your personal branding message into your official interactions. In case you haven’t yet crafted a personal branding strategy and elevator pitch or a message, then now is the time to decide how you want to present yourself. A very simple example of this would be – If you want to present your down-to-earth, straight-talking credentials to the world, then you can eschew jargon-heavy, indirect talk and stand out as the person who says-it-like-it-is.
Build in helpfulness
Be a giver, and you will be remembered! You don’t have to be a giver in the material sense; even being generous with your time and attention is sometimes enough. While interacting with peers at an event or even online, try to maintain an overall aspect of helpfulness. Advice, encouragement, a compliment, referrals, and sharing connections – all don’t require much effort, but when done consistently, these small acts of kindness will undoubtedly add to your personal brand.
Doing your homework before networking
It’s important to know who’s going to be at an event, which we can often do by checking social media – conference hashtags on Twitter are a good place to start. Then make a shortlist of people you want to meet. Google them and view LinkedIn profiles, so that when you do meet someone new, you will know something about them.
Quality over Quantity
People often think that networking means meeting as many people as possible. But that’s not the case. Making a few meaningful connections is far better than working an entire room. If you can have three or four deeper conversations, then both you and the people you meet will be more likely to remember the interaction.
Social Media matters
You don’t have to keep your online and offline networking efforts siloed. Use them as an extension of each other. Follow up meetings and interactions by connecting with people on LinkedIn or engage with your LinkedIn community to organise physical meetups at events.
Engaging with people online is important for people of all ages, but particularly if we want to make contacts with younger prospects or companies working in a digital space. Remember, though, nothing solidifies a business relationship like meeting face-to-face.
By making networking a priority and regularly reaching out to people from different fields, you can broaden your network even outside your industry. You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.
Yes, it can sometimes be a challenge to network for your personal brand. Many of you may feel a bit uncomfortable with the concept of personal marketing; after all, being self-effacing or not bragging are ingrained in our collective psyche as admirable qualities – and personal marketing does require some amount of blowing your own trumpet which might put you off!
I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like this! Sure, you can share your photos or videos of receiving awards and giving talks, but that is just one part of it. The rest is all about respect and trust; it is about being truly helpful and kind to people in your circle; it is about valuing your contacts and not taking your friends and business connections for granted.
Networking is a long-term investment. You don’t have to bombard your social media feed today! But do keep the tips I shared above in mind and practice them gently. With time, you will feel at ease, and nurturing your personal brand will slowly become second nature.